It’s winter, but the air in the car is sultry and warm as a summer afternoon, so I roll down the window to let the breeze in. It chills my hands curled around the steering wheel and whips my hair across my face, driving it into my mouth in strands, which snag on my teeth and the corners of my lips. The small dog in my lap is shedding fine hair, which floats around the car in swirling upcurrents of air, sliding into my nose and tickling the edges of my nostrils. He flips his head up to look at me and his breath washes over my face, invoking a momentary gag-reflex in the back of my throat. You’d swear he lives a wild life, dining on swamp creatures and cached dead things in holes, buried and forgotten until the smell reminds him they are there.
I swear. Loudly. And push him away. I reach past him and turn up the radio. Classic FM waltzes Beethoven concertos through the sunlit air. The cigarette between my fingers is sending tendrils of smoke into the atmosphere and I bring it to my lips, inhaling the minty freshness which belies the taste of nicotine and sending it soaring out again into the whistling wind. The dog sneezes. Serves him right. But I soothe his ears as I drive, my right hand balancing the wheel with the three fingers not occupied with gripping the cigarette. I lean back in my seat, allowing the back support to cushion me in padding, the headrest wobbling behind me.
The air blowing through my window smells of petrol fumes and veld fire. Both of these mean death to small things and I wonder if the small dog would prefer his carrion roasted.
The sun glares white on my windshield and I flip the visor down, shielding my eyes from the brightest light. To either side of me are multi-coloured apartment complexes: beige,white, eggshell, ivory, grey, dove, peach, tan, sand. I wonder how the people can stand to live in such a riot of colour.
Even the trees are grey, this time of year. A few dusty leaves cling to skeletal branches and as I drive, they drift across my path and get caught in my windscreen wipers.
The leaf leaves a line across the windshield when I try to flick it off with the wiper. It’s a yellow-green smear. Perhaps there was a caterpillar caught in there.
Winter driving is death to small things.
The other cars on the road fly past me too fast to catch the expressions on the pink-blurred faces of their operators. It’s Sunday, so I imagine most of them are on their way to lunch with their families, freshly pressed from prayers, the scent of roast beef and potatoes already playing tunes on their tastebuds.
I’m going to see my grandfather. We’ll eat sandwiches and drink juice and he’ll talk about that time he met the prime minister of England. These are the things that stick with him, these days. That, and all the Very Important PR work he did for the mines.
I wish he’d tell stories about us, rather.